COMMENTARY | The holidays are over -- which means heading back to the reality of life and having to watch what you eat again.
If you're all about realism and keeping your head out of the clouds, I'll say this: The New York Knicks weren't good in 2013. But along with the mainstream society, hopefully, a new year will bring some new resolutions and maybe some better basketball.
2014 starts tonight for the Knicks, whom have been off since last weekend's poor showing in back-to-back losses against the Toronto Raptors. Those two losses and the Christmas loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder were all undermanned losses, as Carmelo Anthony took the time to heal up his turned ankle. Meanwhile, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni will not be ready to ring in the new year for another week or two, according to the New York Post. Anthony is ready to go, however.
As the Knicks regain their top gun, this isn't the only solution to winning basketball; a few things are going to have to get done behind the scenes to help Melo shoulder the load -- starting in Texas. Three straight games against Texas foes (The Texas Triangle) is certainly a hefty task to ask of New York with a clean slate -- we're 0-0 in 2014! -- managing to grab one of three sounds pretty realistic.
So, for these games and forward on, let's take a look at five things the Knicks can do to start the new year right and get this locomotive back on track:
FIVE: Starting and finishing STRONG
What we learned in 2013 is that the Knicks lack consistent starts to games and are often burned out by the fourth quarter. Toward December, the Knicks have started games better. However, they still sit in the bottom-third of the league at 24th in scoring in the first quarter, according to NBA.com/Stats, with 23 points.
Mike Woodson will have to get players such as Iman Shumpert playing with more aggression. His ability to score can be a vital piece to this team when he is playing effectively. With Anthony now returning, teams should -- and will -- look to keep the ball out of Anthony's hands early by forcing him into spots he doesn't like and a few double-teams. It's important his teammates feed off of this as an opportunity to score.
Finishing games has been somewhat the same animal. On average, the Knicks are allowing their opponents to outscore them by at least four points in the fourth quarter, which gives them a net rating of -4.5 in the fourth quarter, meaning their defensive rating -- points opponents score per 100 possessions -- is higher than their offensive rating -- points scored per 100 possessions. New York has simply had a hard time finding the basket in the fourth quarter when an opponent's defense tightens up. Only two other teams have scored less points than the Knicks in the fourth quarter this year.
FOUR: Team defense
There may not be a stat for team defense, but anyone who is an avid watcher of the Knicks will tell you players are left out to dry if they get beat, and, unfortunately, the Knicks have only one Tyson Chandler, who has been their best defender all year. It's like a domino effect. One player on the perimeter gets beat, and the rest of the team gives in.
On multiple occasions, we've seen opposing players stroll down main street right to the bucket while the Knicks just turn their heads or stick an arm out -- this is the lazy man's way of drawing a foul rather than stepping in for a charge. It hurts the team's confidence and ability to defend. More communication would help, but also as Woodson has abided to recently, the effort isn't there from certain players, and we now see him finally beginning to hold those players accountable.
THREE: Production from Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert has recently taken on the nickname "Iman Slumpert" from many Knicks fans. Rightfully so; he's been in a pretty remarkable slump. His lack of production has completely erased him from being an option on offense. His defense hasn't suffered entirely, which is why he still gets a chunk of minutes, but down the stretch, it is very easy to overlook Shump.
For a player who was expected to have his breakout year, he is averaging only six points and one assist. He has rebounded well, however, with almost five boards per game. But that's not why the Knicks drafted Shumpert, to rebound. He has to get back to hitting three-pointers -- especially from the corner where the Knicks like to go -- and looking for his shot when he's the lone option on the floor.
TWO: Less iso-Anthony, more playmaking-Anthony
If we learned anything from 2013, it's that Carmelo Anthony can't do this alone. We've seen him make the effort to get his teammates involved. I'm not asking a player like Anthony, who is a natural scorer and that's just what he does, to shoot less or score less. More along the lines of getting teammates involved early on to get their confidence going. Make your remarks about the Amar'e Stoudemire-Carmelo Anthony duo all you want, but from what we've seen on the court this year, the two have the ability to run an effective pick-and-roll.
Things like this are things he can do to help the team. When the Knicks hit a lull, sure, shoot away, Melo. But when the team is grooving, don't be afraid to give the rock up to your teammates. Essentially, this takes less pressure off of Melo anyway.
The holidays are over, and all the magical stuff that comes with them are gone, too. All that seeing is believing marketing crap will take a backseat until next December. But the Knicks can keep it running if they choose. It's very easy for a team to get down, as Anthony has referred to all year as the "dark place."
At 9-21, no one is counting the Knicks in right now, and rightfully so -- the Knicks are slowly becoming the joke they were in the mid-2000s. But is that a reason for the Knicks to roll over and die? No. Is it enough reason for them to pack it in and hope next year will be better? No, not at all.
If the Knicks can play to win, rather than giving up midway through games, the whole perspective changes. I know many of us are sick of the moral victory cliché, but those types of losses were better than the ones of recent when the Knicks have just given up. Anthony is the team's superstar. It is his job to lift the spirits of his teammates and get them to once again believe they are a caliber basketball team that can make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference.
What do you believe the Knicks must do in 2014 to turn things around?
Steve has experienced all the possible feelings of an overwhelmed fan rooting for the Knicks. He has been a Knicks follower since 1999. You can follow Steve on Twitter @Steve_Scafidi.
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- New York Knicks
- Carmelo Anthony
- Iman Shumpert